Institute Talk: A Conversation with Jim Wessler of the Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer's bill signing

Some of the challenges faced by people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families can be found in a doctor’s office or a hospital. Large numbers of people affected are not diagnosed or, in some cases, not told of the diagnosis. Hospitals and their staffs are not always prepared or trained to recognize and help patients with Alzheimer’s. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Jim Wessler, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter, about those challenges and a landmark law passed last year in Massachusetts intended to deal with them. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Len Fishman: The Alzheimer’s Association reports less than half of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease have been diagnosed and less than half of them have been told of their diagnoses. That means about one in four Americans with Alzheimer’s know they have it. What are the impediments to diagnosis?

Jim Wessler: People with diseases don’t want to hear the bad news so there may be some reluctance to bring it up with their doctor. But in survey data, well over 90 percent of both patients and physicians say a cognitive assessment is important. An overwhelming number of people expect their physician will bring it up. Most don’t go to their doctors and say, “I want to get my blood pressure checked and I want the blood test for cholesterol and while you’re at it, let’s look at my sugar count and all that.” You expect the question as part of their assessment of your health. Right or wrong, consumers expect doctors will do it. Continue reading

Gerontology’s Kathrin Boerner to Represent Boston Campus at UMass Faculty Speaker Series

Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner will represent the UMass Boston campus this week at the annual University of Massachusetts Faculty Speaker Series in Florida, describing her ongoing research into the relationship between children and their surviving parents later in life.

The events, hosted by the University of Massachusetts Foundation, will feature presentations by one faculty member from each UMass campus. The speakers will be appear March 13 in Palm Beach and in Naples the following day.

Boerner, who teaches at the McCormack Graduate School, was selected as the UMass Boston speaker to discuss her research analyzing relationships between children age 65 or older and a parent who is at least 90 years old. In many individual cases, that became a study of mothers and daughters late in life. Continue reading

UMass Gerontology Video: Professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne

Susan Krauss Whitbourne kicked off the University of Massachusetts Boston Gerontology spring speaker’s series Jan. 29 with a presentation on the psychosocial development of subjects over a span of four decades.

Whitbourne is an adjunct professor of Gerontology at UMass Boston and a professor emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at UMass Amherst. This video of her presentation, “40 Years of Studying Psychosocial Development: Insights from Sequential Research on Midlife and Beyond,” is the first in an anticipated series of video blog posts featuring gerontology presentations at UMass Boston.

UMass Boston Gerontology Building Academic Relationships in China

Professor Jeffrey Burr receives a gift from Professor Lu Jiehua of Peking University

UMass Boston Gerontology professors Jeffrey Burr and Jan Mutchler delivered presentations at a conference hosted by China’s Remin University and other organizations early in December. That was not especially big news.

But their speeches, as well as social events organized around the visit to China, were important just the same. Their trip was the latest of many small steps the Gerontology Department at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School has taken to build academic relationships in a country with one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing elder populations.

“This initiative is part of our effort to ‘look outward’ beyond the boundaries of the United States when it comes to gerontology research, teaching and service,” said Burr, the Gerontology Department chair. “Countries in East Asia, like China, provide a wonderful opportunity to learn about the aging process through different cultural, social, and economic lenses.”

Professor Jan Mutcherl withstudent Yu Mengting

Professor Jan Mutchler with student Yu Mengting of Renmin University.

There are also more specific objectives behind the efforts to forge relationships with Chinese gerontologists.“Our goals are to create student and faculty exchange programs, joint faculty research projects, and jointly sponsored conferences that advance the field,” said Burr. Continue reading